Argentina: New Law Over Old Thinking

Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies has approved a law to regulate the hemp and medical cannabis industries. According to one of the bill’s sponsors, “a new industry has been born in Argentina” with the passage of the bill (which we flagged last summer in Legalization in Latin America: Who’s Next After Mexico?). The new law enjoyed a measure of support from opposition parties, a notable feat in highly polarized Argentina.

On occasions like this, the constructive thing to do is focus on the opportunities that the new legal regime will make possible, and celebrate cross-party cooperation in pursuit of the national interest. Unfortunately, it is hard to ignore the less enlightened views on cannabis that manifested themselves during the vote. In Argentina prohibitionism is on the back foot in the aftermath of the vote, but such attitudes hinder even modest progress elsewhere in Latin America.

One deputy voted against the bill on the grounds that “it is clear that what is being sought is legalization” of adult-use cannabis. Another legislator said that the approval of the law would lead to a “multiplication of consumption,” claiming that neighboring Uruguay saw consumption increase from 8% to 20% after a similar move.

First, the slippery-slope trope is a tired one, and one that infantilizes other legislators as well as their constituents. Do promoters of this trope really think the average Argentinean cannot tell the difference between a marijuana cigarette and CBD oil? Legislators who support the new law have been crystal clear about the importance of establishing boundaries to keep the newly regulated activities separate from activities that remain illegal. To insist, despite these clarifications, that adult-use cannabis will enter through the backdoor is, well, frustrating.

Second, and assuming the statistics are even accurate, so what if cannabis use has increased in Uruguay? Has prohibitionism shielded Argentina from some terrible fate that has befallen Uruguay? Considering that GDP per capita in the latter is almost 50% higher than in the former, the answer appears to be no. And while more cannabis use probably won’t improve Argentina’s economic performance, industrial activities related to cannabis would surely provide an economic boost. According to one estimate, the legal industry that’s being birthed could create 10,000 new jobs by 2025.

Curmudgeonly musings aside, the news out of Argentina is positive. We look forward to seeing the direction that the country’s new cannabis regulatory agency (Ariccame) takes, while hoping others in Latin America take notice.